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Preston: These Ravens aren’t holding up franchise’s proud defensive tradition

We're just not reacting right to the different concepts that they're giving us," said Earl Thomas on the mistakes of the defense against the Browns.

Over in one corner of the locker room, Ravens linebackers Matthew Judon and Patrick Onwusaor huddled together. They couldn’t be overhead but it wasn’t hard to imagine what they were saying.

The Ravens haven’t had a defense this bad since the mid-1990s, when then-owner Art Modell moved the team from Cleveland to Baltimore and officials didn’t have enough money to acquire great defensive players.

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Only this offseason, the Ravens signed Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas III from the Seattle Seahawks. Combined with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey and fellow safety Tony Jefferson, the Ravens were supposed to have the “best secondary” in the NFL and possibly the top-ranked defense.

But after Sunday’s embarrassing 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens might have the worst secondary in the league and have tarnished the team’s reputation of playing great, physical defense.

The Ravens allowed Cleveland to amass 530 yards of total offense, including 337 passing. A team that once prided itself on stuffing the run and not allowing 100-yard rushers gave up 165 yards to running back Nick Chubb and made second-year Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield look like the second coming of former Cleveland great Bernie Kosar.

This came on a day when former Ravens coach Brian Billick was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor, which included a ceremony with video tributes from Hall of Fame players Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and personal appearances by former greats Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary.

Somewhere in owner Steve Bisciotti’s luxury suite, they had to be wondering what in the world has happened? In 2000, the Ravens had one of the best defenses in league history. That tradition has carried on, but this group doesn’t play or tackle "like a Raven.”

Right now, they can’t play. Period.

“We have a great family,” Onwuasor said. “We all come together win, lose or draw, so we like to talk about certain situations, or if there is a situation we want to all come together and make sure we’re on the same page and just figure out what we need to do for us to be successful. I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

“No, not shaken,” Onwuasor said of the team’s confidence. “We never lose confidence in this defense or in this organization. We play Raven football, and that’s what we’re going to figure out to do and we’re going to get the job done.”

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These aren’t the Ravens of old. If they were, they would have stopped Kansas City on the Chiefs’ last possession last weekend and given the offense the ball back one more time. Lewis, Reed and Co. wouldn’t have allowed Chubb to break off an 88-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter Sunday on a first-and-15 two plays after the Ravens had pulled within 24-18.

This group doesn’t have a killer instinct yet.

These Ravens can’t even line up properly. Show them four-receiver sets with plenty of motion and they get confused. Besides the Chubb touchdown run, they gave up pass plays of 65 and 59 yards.

The Browns weren’t just wide-open; they should have been arrested for loitering.

“We just have to clean it up,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The Browns did a good job. It’s as simple as that. When you have gap control or a responsibility on a run play, you have to be there. When you have coverage responsibility, you have to do it. That’s as simple as that.”

If it is so simple, why can’t the Ravens do it?

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“We’re not disciplined right now in that sense,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t do our assignment like we’re supposed to too many times, it’s costing us big plays.”

"Tough game, obviously, for the Ravens. Congratulations to the Browns," said Ravens John Harbaugh after his team loss 40-25 to the Browns.

The problem is that the Ravens don’t have many options. They are already without Smith and slot cornerback Tavon Young, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury.

At least Smith and Williams are expected to return from injuries soon. But their absences aren’t to blame for a lot of these defensive problems. It’s one thing to get beat physically and another not to know what state you’re in.

The Ravens can’t get off the field, as the Browns converted on six of 13 third-down situations Sunday and at one point had five straight scoring drives. The Ravens can’t get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks; they had just one sack and one quarterback hit Sunday.

Now, let’s get into specifics.

Thomas can run straight forward but is slow turning and running. All the players in the secondary seem lost, except for Humphrey, and that’s because he covers the top receiver man-to-man all over the field.

The Ravens’ inside linebackers can’t cover and don’t get deep drops in pass coverage. The Ravens’ starting outside linebackers of Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee can play well and dominate at times but don’t get enough rest and sometimes lose focus during altercations.

Their replacements, Tyus Bower, Jaylon Ferguson and Tim Williams, can’t hold the edge and teams attack them immediately once they get into the game. Because the Ravens’ inside linebackers are fast but small, look for more teams to run inside the tackles against them.

As for the defensive line, the Ravens made a mistake at the beginning of the season by keeping only five linemen. That unit already hasn’t held up.

So, the Ravens are basically limited in the personnel moves they can make. It was hot Sunday, so they got as many players on the field as they could before those reserves became liabilities.

“Fix it all,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “Take it one day at a time. Chip away. You see it, we know what’s going on. We see it as well. There are a lot of areas we can improve on: up front, in the middle, on the back end. We all have our work cut out for improvement. We can’t point fingers at each other.

“We all have different things that we can get better in to make this defense better. It’s just going to take all hands on deck, guys in this locker room for the rest of the season. It just takes time. It’s a long process, but trust the process.”

The Ravens had their share of problems early last season and they made improvements to finish the season ranked No. 1. They are faster and younger than a year ago but don’t have that veteran leadership that safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs provided nor the play- and signal-calling ability of middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, now with the New York Jets.

Yes, leadership might be another problem for a team that is in shell shock. But let’s save that for another day.

The Ravens already have enough problems.

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